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Suffolk School Takes Recycling Beyond The Bin

Posted on June 30, 2017 by | Comments Off

The Recycling Club at John Yeates Middle School in Suffolk is impressive to say the least. The club formed in the fall of 2016 when the school received an askHRgreen.org environmental education mini grant to start a recycling program. Made up of 12 students, with guidance from teachers, Ms. Sabrina Hayes and Ms. Lauren Rubash, they have been busy rolling out and managing the school’s recycling program. They have also given a recycling presentation to a manager at a local fast food chain that isn’t currently recycling, they’ve raised funds for their program, and now they are managing and maintaining a school garden complete with compost area and a rain barrel. Assistant Principal Dr. Wendy Van Housen has been instrumental in all of these activities, including applying for the mini grant. For her leadership and efforts, Dr. Van Housen won the askHRgreen Environmental Action Award back in February. As the Regional Recycling and Beautification Committee representative for Suffolk, I stopped by the school to see the newly-installed garden and catch up with Dr. Van Housen as the students are out on summer break.

JohnYeatesBefore&AfterDr. Van Housen and the school principal, Dr. Shawn Green, led me to their beautiful new courtyard garden. It was very impressive, and when Dr. Van Housen showed me how it looked before the makeover, I was curious to know how they did such a wonderful job in the middle of a busy school semester. 

As part of the school’s Earth Day (week) celebrations, Dr. Van Housen reached out to two businesses known for their community involvement, Lowes and Smuckers. She asked them for help with rejuvenating their school courtyard which she referred to as, “an eyesore.” The manager of Lowes, Steve Poole, agreed to help with the project by supplying tools and lending 12 employees. In addition, they supplied 400 bags of soil, 300 bags of mulch, and 200 bags of marble rock. More than 30 planks of wood were cut to build benches and lay the foundation for a rock path. Smuckers manager, Keith Hightower, also agreed to help and organized 9 employees to join the effort and contributed Chick-fil-A lunches for everyone involved. It took only two days to turn the courtyard around, installing three raised beds, a variety of benches, and a composting area. A remarkable team effort! 

JohnBYeates4Now that it’s built, The Recycling Club is managing and maintaining it. They are already harvesting cucumbers with peppers, carrots, and tomatoes on the way. Over the course of the summer, some of the teachers and supporting staff will help with maintenance until the students return. Dr. Van Housen told me how the cooking teacher had already visited the garden to teach the students about fresh food and in the new school year, there will be plenty of opportunities for other teachers to use the garden as a learning experience. Next year, they are planning to begin composting, install their rain barrel, and paint the benches with their school colors.

JohnYeatesAfterIt is amazing to think that a year ago the school did not have a recycling program or a recycling club and now they are looking to harvest rain water and begin composting. Before I left, I asked Dr. Van Housen if everybody at the school was recycling to which she replied, “Many students are recycling but not everybody just yet; however, everybody is aware of recycling. The school is making progress and we are excited to encourage our students to think about their environmental impact.”

 Blog post contributed by Wayne Jones, Litter Control Coordinator with the City of Suffolk.

Posted in: For educators, Gardening, Going Green, Lawn and landscape, Reduce reuse and recycle, Uncategorized, Using water wisely

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Meat Water: Not A Thing

Posted on June 28, 2017 by | Comments Off

There comes a time in every educator’s life when you question if you are really making a difference. Am I reaching people? Am I molding the next generation of world changers? Will they remember any of this? 

I’ve been a Community Educator with HRSD for about 5 years and I love what I do. I get to teach people how HRSD cleans dirty water and why clean water is important, create interactive activities to bring to schools, and blog about my experiences right here on “Let’s Talk Green.” At this point, most of my friends and family know what not to flush because it’s one of my favorite soap boxes to stand on. Encouraging civic engagement is my jam. I even convinced my brother to stop hurling his used turkey fryer oil over the fence. Community Educator win.

But then, it happened. One ordinary night my husband and I were going through the post-dinner motions of cleaning up and getting the kids clean and in bed with enough efficiency to allow for a TV show and an adult beverage before turning into pumpkins. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him leaning over the kitchen sink with the pan he had cooked the beef in that night. No, I thought. He can’t be. He wouldn’t…

Fats Oils Grease Disposal

This is not “meat water.” It is FOG.

Me:  What are you doing?

Husband:  Huh?  Just…

Me:  Are you pouring that grease into our sink?! 

Husband:  What? No, it’s not grease, it’s meat water.

Me:  MEAT WATER?! Meat water is not a thing. There is no such thing as meat water. 

Husband:  Yes, this is meat water. It’s not grease. Bacon makes grease. This is more like water.

Me:  HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?! You can’t pour that down the drain. Do you ever listen to anything I say? I spend a lot of time telling people to keep FOG out of their drains, and now you, my own husband, my sink. That clogs pipes, causes sewage spills…Ahhhhhhhh!  *Throws hands in air*

Husband:  It’s MEAT WATER! Meat water doesn’t clog pipes.

Me:  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MEAT WATER! 

I could continue but we just started to talk in circles at this point. 

Community Educator FAIL. Apparently, my messages are sometimes lost on the ones closest to me. And this is the same sink I have blogged about in the past, a sink that my husband installed WITHOUT a garbage disposal because garbage disposals send too much gunk into the pipes and contribute to clogs and sewage spills. He knows that part. He scrapes his leftovers into the trashcan and compost bin like a champ.   

I guess I need one of these above my sink.

I guess I need one of these above my sink.

So here goes.  For my husband and everyone else I have failed to reach. Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) DO NOT GO DOWN THE DRAIN. That includes any leftover residue from cooking meat. Even if it looks “watery.” It’s not meat water. Meat water does not exist. Google it. 

It turns out, I’m not alone. My coworker, Molly, is also a Community Educator, guest blogger, and environmental steward with a green thumb (check out her composting tips). She realized recently that her husband was not using the strainer in their kitchen sink. He didn’t think he needed to since he scrapes all of the large pieces of food in the trash. But what about the teeny tiny pieces? If our husbands lived together, they would have some hefty bills from the plumber. The FOG sent down the drain would cling to the pipe walls and catch all of those teeny tiny pieces and eventually make a big ol’ clog. And there’s more. She also caught her husband (why is it always the husbands?) leaving grass clippings on the sidewalk because “the rain will wash it away into the storm drain.” And not just any storm drain. A storm drain that resides on the worst hit street in the state of Virginia by Hurricane Matthew. Their house flooded, their floors floated, they evacuated in the middle of the night. Everyone on their street is all too familiar with the stormwater system and how important it is to keep things flowing. PLUS, grass clippings pollute our waterways with excess nutrients. Our husbands are both smart people, but it seems we’ve overlooked them in our quest to save the world. 

We all need reminders now and then, so please, take this home with you today:

Meat water is not real. Fatbergs are real. 

Google it. Then educate your spouses.

Posted in: Fats, oils and grease disposal, For educators, Gardening, Going Green, Household tips, Keeping storm drains free, Lawn and landscape, Lawncare, Outdoor tips, Uncategorized, Waterways

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Composting: A Lazy Gardener’s Guide

Posted on June 13, 2017 by | Comments Off

If you’re an avid gardener, you’re probably familiar with home composting. The premise is simple; mix kitchen scraps with a bunch of leaves or straw in a bin to make a rich, organic fertilizer for your plants. It’s green! It’s economical! It’s easy! Or so they say.

I love home-grown vegetables. Specifically tomatoes, because I’ve found the ones available in grocery stores to be nothing short of inedible. I’m also known to grow epic corn, eggplants, artichokes, lettuces, kale, cucumbers, potatoes, watermelons, zucchini, blackberries, herbs and green beans. The point is this: I’m good at growing things. The secret to my success? Good soil and a laid-back (bordering on lazy) attitude. Unfortunately, home composting using a bin requires a certain level of attention to detail that just doesn’t jive with my “lazy gardening” philosophy.

Here’s how bin composting works:

1. Choose a bin. You can purchase a simple pre-made bin from a garden center or spring for a more expensive tumbler. You can even make your own from a large lidded trash can. I made my own by drilling a bunch of small holes in a hefty green trash can to let oxygen in.

2. Layer nitrogen-rich green waste (grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, flowers) and carbon-rich brown waste (dead leaves, sawdust, shredded paper).  Each later should be about 2-4 inches thick. Make sure green waste from your kitchen is always covered by green or brown waste from your yard to keep it from attracting critters.

3. Turn it at least once a week. The decomposing microorganisms responsible for turning your waste into fertilizing compost need oxygen to survive, and turning the pile allows air to circulate and speeds things along. A tumbler makes this step easy (you just rotate the side handle a few times) but you can also use a pitchfork or shovel.

4. Be patient. Compost is ready to use when it no longer looks like raw materials and instead like rich soil. This may take a few months!

Once I completed my homemade compost bin, I was ready to roll. I kept dead leaves and topsoil nearby to sprinkle on top of any food scraps, mixed it up every week, threw in a bunch of worms to help out the decomposing microorganisms, and got… grubs. Lots and lots of grubs. So I dumped Trial 1 onto the lawn (the neighborhood songbirds had a heyday) and tried again. I figured I didn’t have enough brown waste, so I added more leaves and shredded paper and less food scraps. The result? More grubs. It was gross. And most of my food scraps were still completely recognizable! Ever the optimist, I tried again. Unfortunately, the third time was NOT the charm and I was once again thwarted by those pesky fly larvae.

Maybe my homemade compost bin was ineffective. Maybe I didn’t add enough leaves or have the right brown-to-green-waste ratio. Maybe I didn’t mix it enough, or mixed it too much. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough (this is likely true). Who knows. The point is, after three tries and way more grubs than I ever want to see again, I gave up. I figured I’d just have to be one of those people who buys fertilizer from the store each year.

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

A few months after quitting composting, I was dealing with the remnants of an ill-fated attempt at growing acorn squash and thinking to myself “I wish I still lived in Troutville and could just rake all this stuff into the woods.” And then, a light bulb! Just because I live in the city now doesn’t mean I have to use a bin to make compost! Like my country brethren of yore, I could just rake it into a pile, dump some dirt on top, and let nature do its thing. So I dug a hole in one of my raised beds, added the vines and exploded acorn squash, topped it with dirt, and went on my merry way. A few weeks later I dug the spot back up and found rich, beautiful soil. It was a Lazy Gardening miracle!

 

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

Two years later and that raised bed is my own personal dirt factory. It’s active about ten months out of the year (my commitment to sustainability doesn’t go so far as to dig through ice in the winter) and produces enough compost to fertilize all my produce and fill the small sinkholes in my yard. I add fruit and vegetable scraps, thin cardboard, shredded paper, grass clippings, leaves, dead plants, tea bags, spaghetti… pretty much anything biodegradable that isn’t meat or cheese. I literally just dig a hole in the ground and bury stuff. I don’t worry about layering brown and green waste, adding earth worms or mixing it; I just let the bugs and microorganisms in the soil do their magic. As a family of four, our big black curbside trashcan is rarely half-full and I’m able to avoid the dreaded clear plastic yard waste bags most of the time. All in all, it’s been a great success.  But I have learned a few things:

  • It turns out this method actually has a name: Trench Composting.
  • Although you can get away with burying large food scraps in your compost pile (I bury our jack-o-lanterns whole after Halloween), it does take longer for them to break down. So cut your kitchen scraps into small pieces if you’re in a compost-creating hurry.
  • The key is to success is ADEQUATE BURIAL. This gives easy-access to worms and microorganisms while repelling flies, ‘coons and other varmints.

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

 

If bin composting works for you, that’s great! But if you’re like me, have failed at it repeatedly, and have the space for a food scrap burial ground (a.k.a. Trench Composting) then try out my Lazy Gardening method. Your tomatoes and trash can will thank you.

Guest post submitted by Molly Bertsch, HRSD Community Educator.

 

 

 

Posted in: Gardening, Going Green, Household tips, Lawn and landscape, Outdoor tips, Uncategorized

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Naturally Deter Mosquitoes from Your Yard

Posted on April 12, 2017 by | Comments Off

Mosquitoes in the GardenAs the world average temperature rises our winters are becoming milder and summers hotter. This phenomenon is one of the main reasons why mosquito populations are growing so rapidly. Mosquitoes live longer and also breed at a quicker pace in warmer climates. Add that to the naturally wooded areas and waterways that make up Hampton Road and it’s mosquito paradise which is why you should know how to control mosquitoes, and how to do it in an eco-friendly way.

One of the most common mosquitoes in Virginia is the Asian Tiger mosquito, which is notorious for spreading such diseases like Zika and West Nile viruses. So it is very important to know how to prevent their breeding.

Since these mosquitoes like to breed in small, watery spaces, it is very important that we pay extra attention to how we store our trash. Cleaning up litter will not only decrease the number of mosquitoes in your area but will also be beneficial to the environment as a whole. Also, don’t keep any standing water around. Mosquitoes need standing water to breed, so leaving even the smallest capfuls of water standing in your yard will provide mosquitoes more space for breeding. Simply turn over any containers that might collect rain water, clean your gutters and use products like mosquito dunks if you have a pool or rain barrel, so mosquitoes don’t start breeding in your yard.

You can also try planting mosquito repelling plants in your backyard. Plants like citronella grass, marigolds, mint, and lavender to name a few are great at deterring mosquitoes. And they also look great, so on top of having additional mosquito protection you will also have a beautiful garden.

Mosquitoes have been and probably will always be a problem once summer arrives. But you can lessen this problem with these few simple, eco-friendly mosquito control methods.  

Guest blog contributed by Karen Thompson, owner and main editor of InsectCop.net.

Posted in: Gardening, Lawn and landscape

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Add Drought-Tolerant Color to Your Yard

Posted on April 3, 2017 by | Comments Off

1There is nothing lovelier than a yard awash in colorful blooms. However, lush gardens can be difficult to maintain during the dry, hot months of summer.

Fortunately, there are many eco-friendly, drought-tolerant plants that can add vibrant color to even the driest of yards. The key to a beautiful color landscape is choosing plants that thrive in their environment. Keep these tips in mind as you shop for plants.

Stay Close to Home

Look at species native to your area when choosing plants for your garden. Local plants have evolved to survive on the average rainfall in your area and should require very little supplemental water. These plants are also accustomed to the insects and other wildlife in your area, which is best for the ecosystem.  

Stay away from invasive species and plants that are not ideal for your growing zone. It is much harder for non-native species to do well—they often require more water and are less pest- and disease-resistant. You avoid the need for chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides if you choose plants that naturally thrive in their surroundings.

2

Think Succulents
In desert-like, extremely dry areas, some of the most popular drought tolerant plants are succulents and cacti. The fleshy leaves of these plants hold water and allow them to thrive in even the driest of environments. You can find succulents in a huge variety of colors, sizes and shapes, making them a great fit for almost any garden. If your area gets a hard freeze in the winter, consider growing succulents in pots and containers so you can bring them inside once the weather turns cold.

3

Pick Perennials

You may immediately think of flowering annuals when you think about garden color, but there are an unlimited number of flowering perennials that can add pops of color to your space year after year as well. Perennials tend to be hardier than annuals and come in a variety of types. You can find perennial ground covers, climbing vines, grasses, shrubs and even roses and flowering bulbs, many of which are drought tolerant. Remember that perennials come back year after year and continue to grow, so when putting them into the ground, make sure you leave enough room for the plants to expand.

4

Change It Up with Annuals

Annuals complete their life cycle in one season and are a great way to add supplemental color to your yard or garden. Because of their short lifespan, annuals tend to be prolific bloomers and are showier and bolder than their perennial counterparts. Planting a few new annuals every year allows you to change up the look of your planting beds.

In some warmer climates, annuals can survive multiple seasons, which make them act like pseudo-perennials. You may want to experiment with different varieties to see how they do in your specific zone.

5

 

Consider the Foliage

We often associate color with blooms, flowers or fruits, but foliage can be a long-lasting and easy to maintain source of color in your yard. Colorful grasses and shrubs add large bold swaths of color, while trees can not only provide seasonal color, but can also add shade and protect the plants below from the heat and direct sun of summer.

Just like other plants, drought-tolerant trees do best when planted in their native climate. Keep in mind that many trees are only considered drought-tolerant once they are established. Small trees and saplings require more water to promote proper root growth and expansion.

Be Wise About Water

Conserving water in your garden and yard shouldn’t end with your plant choices. You can reduce the amount of water you need to use in your garden if you’re smart about your watering habits. Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure you water plants during the cooler hours of the day.
  • Use drip line irrigation instead of sprinklers, which lose a lot of water to evaporation.
  • Add mulch and compost to your planting beds to trap in moisture.

 

A beautiful garden begins with good plant choices and lasts with proper care and maintenance. Focus on native plants that do well in your specific zone and won’t require a lot of additional water or pest prevention. Then add color through blooms and foliage, and consider both annuals and perennials to give the perfect balance of seasonal color and hardiness.

With her three kids and a busy home life in the San Francisco area, Kim Six is a DIY home improvement blogger who keeps her eye on organizational techniques. Kim writes her home lifestyle and organizing tips for Home Depot. For gardening options for all environments, visit the Home Depot site here.

Posted in: Beautification, Gardening, Lawn and landscape, Lawncare, Outdoor tips

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